PATERSON, NJ – The city’s decision to reimburse a former councilwoman for what were supposed to be non-paid furlough days has come under criticism from the New Jersey agency that provides Paterson with much-needed Transition Aid.
“The Division of Local Government Services doesn’t review that under the terms of the Transitional Aid MOU (Memorandum of Understanding),’’ said state spokeswoman Tammori Petty in response to questions about the $3,312 check provided to former councilwoman Vera Ames-Garnes.
“We will say, however, that we think it is concerning that she should be treated differently than other employees, and it is one more example of the City spending money it should not,’’ Petty added.
Petty declined to comment when asked if the payment to Ames-Garnes would affect the state’s allocation of transition aid to Paterson. Municipal officials have applied for $28.5 million under transition aid, the program designed to help cities get through tough economic times.
Vera Ames-Garnes was Paterson’s only city elected official to get paid for the furlough days, the records show. During the past two years, resolutions approved by the City Council required hundreds of Paterson employees – almost all of them except police officers and firefighters – to take 20 days off without pay to help resolve the city’s budget problems.
City Business Administrator Charles Thomas has said he approved the payment to Ames-Garnes because he said the furloughs were voluntary for city council members. But the October 26, 2010 city council resolution imposing the first wave of furloughs does not describe them as voluntary. In fact, the document uses the word “mandatory” three times to describe the furloughs.
Thomas did not respond on Friday when PatersonPress.com sent him an email asking for the legal basis for the ames-Garnes reimbursement.
Several of Ames-Garnes have express surprise and outrage about the payment made to her. Some said she should pay the money back.
Ames-Garnes has said she sought reimbursement for the furlough time after she applied for unemployment compensation for those days and the state labor department denied her request. The former councilwoman said she then took the letter from the labor department to Thomas to find out what she was entitled to receive. As a result, she said, the city provided her the $3,312 reimbursement for the furlough days.